ما به مدارس کمتر نیاز داریم، نه بیشتر - بخش سوم

کتاب: مدارسی که ما را کند ذهن میکند / فصل 8

ما به مدارس کمتر نیاز داریم، نه بیشتر - بخش سوم

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Schools, I hear it argued, would make better sense and be better value as nine-to-five operations or even nine-to-nine ones, working year-round. We’re not a farming community anymore, I hear, that we need to give kids time off to tend the crops. This new-world- order schooling would serve dinner, provide evening recreation, offer therapy, medical attention, and a whole range of other services, which would convert the institution into a true synthetic family for children, better than the original one for many poor kids, it is said — and this would level the playing field for the sons and daughters of weak families.

Yet it appears to me as a schoolteacher that schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. They separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop — then they blame the family for its failure to be a family. It’s like a malicious person lifting a photograph from the developing chemicals too early, and then pronouncing the photographer incompetent.

A Massachusetts Senator said a while ago that his state had a higher literacy rate before it adopted compulsory schooling than after. It’s certainly an idea worth considering: schools reached their maximum efficiency long ago, meaning that “more” for schools will make things worse, instead of better.

VII

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die.

What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is one right way to proceed with growing up. That’s an ancient Egyptian idea symbolized by the pyramid with an eye on top, the one that’s on the other side of George Washington on our one-dollar bill. Everyone is a stone defined by its position on the pyramid. This theory has been presented in many different ways, but at bottom it signals the worldview of minds obsessed with the control of other minds, obsessed by dominance and strategies of intervention to maintain that dominance.

It might have worked for the Pharaohs but it certainly hasn’t worked very well for us. Indeed, nothing in the historical record provides evidence that any one idea should dominate the developmental time of all the young, and yet aspirants to monopolize this time have never been closer to winning the prize. The humming of the great hive society foreseen by Francis Bacon, and by H.G. Wells in The Sleeper Awakes, has never sounded louder than it does to us right now.

The heart of a defense for the cherished American ideals of privacy, variety, and individuality lies in the way we bring up our young. Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important; force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.

Individuality, family, and community, on the other hand, are, by definition, expressions of singular organization, never of “one-right-way” thinking on a grand scale. Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without which we aren’t really individuals at all. Children and families need some relief from government surveillance and intimidation if original expressions belonging to them are to develop. Without these freedom has no meaning.

The lesson of my teaching life is that both the theory and the structure of mass education are fatally flawed; they cannot work to support the democratic logic of our national idea because they are unfaithful to the democratic principle. The democratic principle is still the best idea for a nation, even though we aren’t living up to it right now.

Mass education cannot work to produce a fair society because its daily practice is practice in rigged competition, suppression, and intimidation. The schools we’ve allowed to develop can’t work to teach nonmaterial values, the values which give meaning to everyone’s life, rich or poor, because the structure of schooling is held together by a Byzantine tapestry of reward and threat, of carrots and sticks. Official favor, grades, or other trinkets of subordination have no connection with education; they are the paraphernalia of servitude, not of freedom.

Mass schooling damages children. We don’t need any more of it. And under the guise that it is the same thing as education, it has been picking our pockets just as Socrates predicted it would thousands of years ago. One of the surest ways to recognize real education is by the fact that it doesn’t cost very much, doesn’t depend on expensive toys or gadgets. The experiences that produce it and the self-awareness that propels it are nearly free. It is hard to turn a dollar on education. But schooling is a wonderful hustle, getting sharper all the time.

Sixty-five years ago Bertrand Russell, one of the great mathematicians of this century, its greatest philosopher, and a close relation of the King of England to boot, saw that mass schooling in the United States had a profoundly anti-democratic intent, that it was a scheme to artificially deliver national unity by eliminating human variation and by eliminating the forge that produces variation: the family. According to Lord Russell, mass schooling produced a recognizably American student: anti-intellectual, superstitious, lacking self-confidence, and having less of what Russell called “inner freedom” than his or her counterpart in any other nation he knew of, past or present. These schooled children became citizens, he said, with a thin “mass character,” holding excellence and aesthetics equally in contempt, being inadequate to the personal crises of their lives.

American national unity has always been the central problem of American life. It was inherent in our synthetic beginnings and in the conquest of a continental landmass. It was true in 1790 and it is just as true, perhaps even truer, two hundred years later. Somewhere around the time of the Civil War we began to try shortcuts to get the unity we wanted faster, by artificial means. Compulsory schooling was one of those shortcuts, perhaps the most important one. “Take hold the children!” said John Cotton back in colonial Boston, and that seemed such a good idea that eventually the people who looked at “unity” almost as if it were a religious idea did just that. It took thirty years to beat down a fierce opposition, but by the 1880s it had come to pass — “they” had the children. For the last one hundred and ten years, the “one-right-way” crowd has been trying to figure out what to do with the children, and they still don’t know.

Perhaps it is time to try something different. “Good fences make good neighbors,” said Robert Frost. The natural solution to learning to live together in a community is first to learn to live apart as individuals and as families. Only when you feel good about yourself can you feel good about others.

But we attacked the problem of unity mechanically, as though we could force an engineering solution by crowding the various families and communities under the broad, homogenizing umbrella of institutions like compulsory schools. The outcome of this scheme was that the democratic ideas that were the only justification for our national experiment were betrayed.

The attempt at a shortcut continues, and it ruins families and communities now, just as it did then. Rebuild these things and young people will begin to educate themselves with our help — just as they did at the nation’s beginning. They don’t have anything to work for now except money, and that’s never been a first-class motivator. Break up these institutional schools, decertify teaching, let anyone who has a mind to teach bid for customers, privatize this whole business — trust the free market system. I know it’s easier said than done, but what other choice do we have? We need less school, not more.

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